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His own fast track to development in Arcadia

Real estate mogul Henry Nunez stopped eating 10 days ago to protest the Arcadia City Council, which rejected a plan he helped craft that would have relaxed zoning laws in the city's modest downtown.

April 13, 2010|By Kate Linthicum

Henry Nunez is probably the first person to embark on a hunger strike in the name of high-density development.

The real estate mogul stopped eating 10 days ago to protest the Arcadia City Council, which last year rejected a plan he helped craft that would have relaxed zoning laws in the city's modest downtown.

Nunez had hoped to bring mixed-use development to the area.

"I had to attract attention to what these guys are doing," he said of the council's resistance to his vision. "There's all these opportunities these guys are wasting because they're stuck in the past."

Nunez hopes the publicity his stunt has generated will influence Arcadia's City Council election Tuesday. He has endorsed three pro-development candidates. He says he won't break his fast until the polls close.

Since Easter, when he announced his hunger strike at a news conference, Nunez, 51, has subsisted on water, coffee, energy drinks and diet Mountain Dew. The offbeat bachelor, who lives in one of Arcadia's few condos, said he has become feeble -- and a little loopy -- from lack of food.

"I walk into someone's office and all I notice is the big bag of peanuts sitting on the desk," he said. "I smell food all the time. The smells, the smells, oh my God."

He paused for several seconds.

"And then there's the short-term memory loss," he said.

In video blogs on his website, HenrySays.com, Nunez has documented his fast and taken aim at several candidates running for election. The makeup of Arcadia has changed dramatically over the last two decades -- its population was once mostly white and is now mostly Asian -- and Nunez said the old guard of politicians has failed to change with it.

One of his favorite targets is Bob Harbicht, 69, a four-time city councilman who was mayor at the time the City Council rejected the zoning changes Nunez and an advisory commission recommended be included in the city's new general plan.

The commission suggested that the city abandon long-standing zoning laws that limit the height of buildings in Arcadia to three stories and prohibit developments with more than 24 units per acre. "Our downtown is a time warp," Nunez said. "It's an embarrassment."

At a City Council meeting, Nunez and others said the new zoning laws would allow developers to build mixed-use buildings near the future site of Arcadia's Gold Line light-rail station, bringing new people -- and new revenue -- to the city of around 60,000.

Harbicht rejected such a plan, saying it would put stress on the city's infrastructure and corrode Arcadia's reputation as a safe community of well-kept ranch homes on big lots.

"What they were suggesting is just not Arcadia -- never has been, and as long as I'm in office, never will be," Harbicht said in an interview Monday.

Harbicht said most people in town think Nunez's protest is a joke.

"Fortunately, most people who have mentioned it to me are laughing at the time that they say it," Harbicht said. "He's kind of like a gnat that keeps buzzing around your ear. It doesn't mean much, it's just kind of annoying."

Nunez, who sits on the board of the San Gabriel Valley Economic Partnership, has supporters -- including some friends who bring him energy drinks twice a day -- but he has also been the butt of unkind jokes.

On a local political website called the Sierra Madre Tattler, one commentator cited the developer's hefty frame.

"His doctor told him to knock off some of those 245 pounds, and he wants you to think his weight-loss program is a principled hunger strike," the person wrote.

"Wish the election was two months away," another person commented. "That way there would be one less developer to worry about."

kate.linthicum@latimes.com

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